Gabriele Pauli, Bavaria’s Conservative Christian Socialist, has a marriage proposal for you. No grand gestures, no diamonds, no romantic music; instead, Pauli has suggested that, after seven years, a couple should be able to choose to renew their marriage or allow it to dissolve. Yes, a seven-year expiry date on marriage.
Ideally, the cycle of marriage would consist of falling in love, getting married, and living out the duration of life together, happily ever after. But like life, marriage is fluid; Pauli’s proposal, if passed, would allow marriage the right and the legislation to deal with change.
Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) hasn’t endorsed Pauli’s proposal, as it goes against the CSU’s traditional beliefs and definition of marriage. But Pauli might actually have the right idea.
Here in North America, the Conservative Right and Christian Right are fighting to preserve the “traditional definition of marriage” — which is described as a union between one man and one woman but does not include specifics about the length of union. It is implied, however, that marriage is to last “until death do us part.” So Pauli’s suggestion probably wouldn’t go over well here, either.
Which only goes to show that marriage is a cultural construction — that is, each culture constructs beliefs, rules, and practices surrounding such matters to fit its own needs. Try to implement arranged marriage in North America and chaos would follow, but, of course, it has been an important part of Indian culture for hundreds of years.
But while the people of India seem to be open to change — with more and more frequency, arranged marriage is considered an option, rather than an obligation, there — we North Americans are more stubborn. Homosexualiity may be gaining in recognition, acceptance, and rights. But ask for the right and legislation to marry? Not without a fight. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed under Clinton, states that state and federal governments do not have to recognize same-sex marriage. Also under DOMA, state and federal governments are allowed to determine the definition of “marriage” and “spouse.”
Which suits the conservative religions that have been fighting marriage change just fine — conservative religions like the one former evangelical preacher Ted Haggard was a part of, until he had to resign in November, 2006 after his affair with a gay, male prostitute was exposed. Haggard is married, the father of five children, and has spoken out against homosexuality as immoral and a threat to marriage and the family.
As has Republican senator Larry Craig, who on June 11th was arrested in an airport bathroom for lewd conduct. The arrest was prompted by Craig’s alleged approach to an undercover police officer for sex in the men’s bathroom. Craig is also a married man, and the father of three adopted children.
Both Haggard and Craig’s history involve allegations and “misunderstandings” that would suggest homosexuality, though both men claim they are not gay. One could suppose that they have constructed their own definitions of marriage, and for that matter, homosexuality. Their definition of marriage appears to be: one man and one woman, and some gay stuff on the side.
They are standard-bearers for the religious and political hypocrisy surrounding marriage and the definition of. And perhaps victims of it, too. If our government adopted legislation that changed as the culture which it governs changed, Craig and Haggard might have chosen to marry men instead, and avoided all that mess. What our government should be trying to preserve is the “current definition of marriage”; assess the needs of the culture as it really is and govern accordingly. Which is why Pauli is onto something good. Marriages just don’t last as long as they used to — and certainly not as long as traditionalists would like to think.